Reading and drinking your way through summer

     You’d have to be living under a very, very, very large rock to not know that we here on the mainland are being boiled alive in our skins this summer. 

     Yesterday I took the day off. I laid around and read a fairly lite novel the whole of the day; finished it late last night. It helped take my mind off the ongoing blast from hell taking place outdoors and my continual moping and griping over shut windows and stale A/C’d air on top of checking in with the news to see how the Financial Circus in Washington DC was, or was not, moving along.

     It’s been way too long since I’ve taken such a day, and I have to tell you: it was the thing to do. The desire to bite the back end out of a charging grizzly bear was absent when I woke up this morning; this being a reeeeeally good thing. 

     I read one of the novels I bought on the after-Christmas sales last January: Gil McNeil’s – the beach street knitting society and yarn club. Booker Prize fiction it is not, but as I love anything that puts me into a small English village I was able to hang with it and it made for good fast entertainment. If you are offended by the f-bomb, or are British and shun the b-bomb word they use in place of our American f-bomb you might want to pass on this one. The way the protagonist relies on these words in her private thoughts as she continually gets pulled into doing things she doesn’t have time for, made her seem—well . . . maybe a tad bit frustrating at times. But it’s fiction; I got over it. 

     I’m offering you several marvelous cold drink recipes here today. When it’s this hot, we need something to comfort our misery. Sipping one of these and reading some lite fiction might be just the ticket for a break from whatever it is that is currently driving you up a wall. 

     Tonight I start on something completely different; The Professor’s House by Willa Cather. I love good introspective writing, and I have a feeling Willa will not let me down. I’m probably going to need a stiff drink while I read as the documentary I watched about her life suggested she was dealing with her own mortality as she wrote this book. 

     Hope you treat yourself to some of these delectable recipes.

Raspberry Lemonade

Makes 6 servings


2 cups (about 10 ounces) raspberries, rinsed

8 cups water

Juice of 4 lemons

½ cup of sugar, or to taste 

Mash the raspberries in a medium-mesh strainer with the back of a spoon until all the pulp has passed through, leaving the seeds. Combine the raspberry pulp with water and the remaining ingredients. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add more sugar or lemon juice, if you desire. Serve immediately or chill for up to 2 days. Always stir before serving.

Lemon Milk Shakes

In a covered electric blender, and on low speed, blend:

3 cups milk

1 – 3-3/4 oz pkg. instant lemon pudding mix

½ pint vanilla ice cream  

Blend this until mixture is frothy.

Makes four 8 oz. servings 

Iced Tea Slush 

Boil 8 tea bags in 4 cups of water for 30 minutes 


2 cans large frozen lemonade

2 cans small frozen orange juice

14 cups boiling water

2 cups bourbon or vodka (I fail to see why rum wouldn’t work, too!) 

Freeze and then thaw to a slush before serving.

Skip and Go Nakeds 

Combine the following in a blender: 

1 6 oz can lemonade concentrate

6 oz. of vodka

6 oz. of beer (not dark)

6-7 ice cubes. 

Blend it well and enjoy! 

Strawberry Spritzer 

1 pkg. (10 oz.) frozen strawberries, thawed

1 bottle white wine, chilled

14 oz. soda water, chilled

Fresh strawberries for garnish

Place undrained strawberries in a blender, cover and blend until smooth In a large glass pitcher, combine blended strawberries with win and soda water. Pour into wine glasses and garnish each with fresh strawberry. 

Daiquiri Punch


1 6 oz. can of limeade

6 oz. rum

12 oz. water

1-1/2 cans of Squirt soda pop

Combine and serve on ice.

                   Blended Peach Slush

1 6 oz. can pink or regular lemonade concentrate

6 oz. vodka

2 fresh peaches, peeled and sliced.

10 ice cubes 

Place all ingredients in blender. Blend until well-mixed. Serve immediately in stemmed wine glasses. 

Of course you can make this slush without the vodka . . . why, I don’t know, but you can if you feel you must. :-p

How will Tom, Dick and Harry read?

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Over the course of my post-Christmas/January-Locate-Sort-Destroy Phase I enjoyed reconnecting with things I’d forgotten.

On one of my bookshelves I came across an old black album containing a small lifetime’s collection of quotes, newspaper clippings, cartoons, and stories that I’d saved. I even turned up the poem we found in my dad’s wallet after he died. (I’d been wondering where I’d put that…) 

A peachy-yellow aged Leisure Section of the May 27, 1990 Cedar Rapids Gazette was among the stack. I couldn’t help but note the difference in page size as compared to what arrives these mornings. In 1990 the paper was 22-¾ inches long and 13-¾ inches wide. Today’s edition is less than 21 inches long and 11 inches in width. 

The paper listed the following among the “Best Sellers” that week: 

Stephen King’s The Stand

Rosamunde Pilcher’s September (this book made me fall in love with her writing of life in the cold land called Scotland)

Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary was even on the list!

Sue Grafton’s “G” is for Gumshoe was selling. She’s now up to the letter “U.”

That May issue carried articles about transporting young readers to other lands and times through—of all things—physical copies of books

Joseph Wambaugh was returning to writing detective fiction that year. 

Cedar Rapids had five different theaters around town at the time.

Julia Roberts’ Pretty Woman got Two Thumbs Up, and Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn (looking considerably younger!) were in the theaters with Bird on a Wire. Back to the Future III was showing. 

A “News Notes about Travel” included a short on how US airlines were teaming up with the federal government to deter terrorist attacks during the summer tourist season. 

The currency exchange rate was listed at the top of one page in a corner. 

I especially enjoyed reading the spread on “The Geography of Cedar Rapids” looking at the Past–complete with neat old historical pictures. Looking at the Present—a clip that included The Islamic Mosque and Center. And spoke of the Future, listing 5 new places/businesses to come–one of which included “a new Catholic High School that was expected to be complete in 1993.” This would be Xavier Catholic High School where greats like Zack Johnson and Kurt Warner graduated. 

What a trip this was for me that morning, and that paper really isn’t all that old, but just look at the changes implicated! 

My eyes roved around the full pages of printed news, picking up the interest in this corner or at the bottom of that page, or off to the right hand margin and it was kind of fun being able to browse without having to move a computer mouse and keep switching to new screens. 

Just look at all the territory I got to cover in a few pages, and no one was watching me from “out there” as I did so. No one popped up trying to get me to check out my credit rating, or sell me a new cell phone, or get my account numbers. I was “alone” in this process. 

Understand me well—I love my computer, internet access, blogging and social networking. It makes a lot of my work much, much easier, but still the question looms in my mind: 

Is there some intrinsic level of information–or fun– lost when one can only get one path of information per screen on a computer and can have it “instantly”—as compared to all the tidbits and information I got from being able to look at one full-sized newspaper page? 

The next generation doesn’t care you say. Okaaay–maybe they don’t. But I wonder if they might a little farther along the pipeline of their own lives? Is there a broader level of reporting/sharing responsibility that’s going to disappear because of texting, blogging, Skype-ing, You-Tubing, Tweeting or email-forwarding? Everything that happens doesn’t reveal all of its true nature in the instant that it happens. Are we forgetting this? 

And since it just floats around out there in cyber land–will it get shared with anyone else down the path—after us? 

Will it matter? 

Will anyone else farther down the road have as much fun as I did the other morning by just sitting back and rereading all those peachy-yellow-aged colored little articles of a mere 21 years ago—since they most likely will never have a hard copy of what they or someone else wrote and shared? 

A friend emailed the following link to me last week on the future of journalism by Jim Pollock regarding the direction of journalism and where it might be headed these days in light of the Big Bang of the Internet Age. I found it interesting.

Kindred Spirits: books and chocolates.

My husband gave me several different kinds of gourmet chocolates handmade by a local chocolatier for Christmas. I’ve already devoured the first batch which was sensational, but they weren’t quite as colorfully elegant as this collection. These came with a guide that tells me what is what in this box. Promises of Mojito, Violet Lavender, Blood Orange and White Strawberry await me. Their names tempt me with what I might expect, but I won’t know until I actually taste them, will I?

The same can be said for books. 

Last night in the wee hours I finished reading a novel called Into the Mouth of the Wolf by Joshua Dagon. The proof copy of this book was loaned to me by the publisher, Breur Media. I’ve had it for a year and have hesitated to start into it because I envisioned that it was going to be another blood-bath story about werewolves. I do not read horror writing. I get my fill of the wickedness and ugliness of this real world from my newspaper reading and nightly news as it is, so why should I spend my greenbacks on horror novels? 

But when an acquaintance who has helped publish a novel loans me one, I want to support their work—if I can.  

This book owned me by the end of page 25. The tension developed in those first pages was captivating–talk about impending suspense and an involved story line! What fun I’ve had. In spite of the wicked red eyes of “something in the dark in the forest” that’s depicted on the cover of this proof copy, I came to realize that this book had so much more to offer than humans being devoured alive by 9-foot “Weres,” just because they could. And to add to my new reading experience—two of the “Weres” were gay. Yes, there were some “eating scenes” but I never drew the impression that the author was trying to shock the stuffing out of me, no pun intended. Nor did he choose to write voyeuristic and graphic love scenes between the two gay “Weres.” The story of the plight of these men infected by the contagion, and the way powerful human authorities reacted carried startling symbolic similarities to how this world can react to things that appear different.  

To look at the cover of this book, you’d never know it had all that to offer. 

I admit I get a bit irritated when I ask someone what they’re currently reading and I hear the same old names that grace the front book stands in Barnes and Noble. Indeed, those authors have worked hard to achieve the commercial success that they have, but they are not the only book game in town. How are you going to discover a new author, if you only read the same ones over and over? Your favorite authors won’t last forever. They can quit writing, and they can die. 

I recently bought five new books for myself off the after-Christmas tables at Barnes and Noble: Off Season by Anne Rivers Siddons; Aesop’s Fables; The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club by Gil McNeil; Hard Row by Margaret Maron, and Home by Pulitzer Prize winning writer Marilynne Robinson.

So tell me– Which chocolate do you think I should bite into first?

Christmas Eve reading thoughts . . .

     I have a tall stack of Christmas story books that I get out every Season. Among them are two stories by Welsh poet and writer Dylan Thomas that I reread every December: A Child’s Christmas in Wales, and A Conversation About Christmas. I love the man’s poetry. 

     In the final excerpt from A Conversation About Christmas, the adult finishes his dialogue with the younger one about Christmas: 

 . . . Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the flying, unending, smoke-coloured snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill, and hear the music rising from them up the long, steadily falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept. 

SMALL BOY: But it all sounds like an ordinary Christmas.

SELF: It was.

SMALL BOY: But Christmas when you were a boy wasn’t any different to Christmas now.

SELF: It was, it was.

SMALL BOY: Why was Christmas different then?

SELF: I mustn’t tell you.

SMALL BOY: Why mustn’t you tell me? Why is Christmas different for me?

SELF: I mustn’t tell you.

SMALL BOY: Why can’t Christmas be the same for me as it was for you when you were a boy?

SELF: I mustn’t tell you. I mustn’t tell you because it is Christmas now. 

     All of our family is home safe tonight, and since nearly 8 inches of snow canceled out our Christmas Eve Service we lit the fireplace and dug out some games we hadn’t played in a while.

     A million calories were prepared today for tomorrow’s family Christmas dinner, and I only had to tie up a couple of loose ends for the editor on last week’s assignments and they are a ‘go.’ New assignments are on deck for next week already—which is good— but for tonight I only have to think about Christmas Eve and an old, old story. 

     Wishing peace, safety and contentment to all of you reading this. 

R’becca G.

What’s on YOUR mantel?

These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves. -Gilbert Highet, writer (1906-1978) 


I used to have a rule: read only one book at a time before starting another.

That rule seems to have disappeared in the past few years, and I’m not so sure that’s a good thing.

Currently, I have the following books in process:

The Ladies’ Lending Library by Janice Kulyk Keefer

When God Winks at You by Squire Rushnell

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

Additionally, I try to grab short peeks from the following that also occupy space on the nightstand:

The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle

Love Poems From God – Daniel Ladinsky

Heartland Portrait, edited by Robert Wolf

In recent months I’ve read Dust by Martha Grimes, The Earth Abides by Iowa writer Betty Taylor, two books by Sarah Addison Allen: Garden Spells and Sugar Queen, Death Penalty by Wm. J. Coughlin (deceased), The Devil’s Code by John Sanford, The Egg Lady by Tricia Curans-Sheehan, Hypnotizing Maria by Richard Bach, three mysteries by Margaret Truman, ANAM CARA by John O’Donohue and a tea-room mystery by Laura Childs—to name a few.

I enjoy reading the daily newspaper, although sometimes that comes in one long session on the weekend. Never mind the number of magazines that I subscribe to . . . or the on-line reading/research that I do.

If you’re going to write, you gotta’ read, and finding the balance is The On-going Challenge. Reading other people’s work is the best writing class around.

In the New Year I’m going to attempt to get back to my initial rule of reading one book start to finish, before picking up another one. I think that will better serve both enjoyment and absorption levels.